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Interview With Egyptian President; Ferry Crashes in New York; Gun Control Debate

Aired January 9, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: Passengers are thrown into the air in a New York City ferry crash.

An overwhelmed hospital resorts to a flu tent.

An armed mother in a home invasion -- 911 tape captures her shooting the intruder.

Wal-Mart reverses course on the White House gun task force.

Plus, democracy or dictatorship? Tough questions for Egypt's new government in my exclusive interview.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Dozens of people injured, some critically, when a passenger ferry hits a dock in New York City during this morning's rush hour. Federal safety investigators are now on the scene and we're learning this is not the first accident this particular ferry has been involved in.

CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She's working the story for us.

What's the latest, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Coast Guard says a total of 85 people were injured in this accident. That includes people who were treated and released at the scene and that one person remains in critical condition tonight.

The fire department said earlier in the day that 55 people had been taken to area hospitals. You can see the ferry is right behind me. A team from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived here hours ago. They're now working with the Coast Guard to find out what just went wrong.


SNOW (voice-over): The Seastreak commuter ferry was just ending a roughly 40-minute ride from New Jersey, when it rammed into Lower Manhattan's Pier 11 with 326 passengers on board.

STEVE MANN, PASSENGER: When we hit the dock, everybody went flying. So that's why we had -- there were so many injuries. You know, people got thrown downstairs, and that was -- that's where most people got hurt. BILL MCKENZIE, PASSENGER: I wasn't looking at the dock, and all of a sudden the boat went from going however fast it was going to zero. So everybody went this way and then you went this way.

CHRIS AVORE, PASSENGER: It felt like you were in a car that just ran into a tree or a building.

SNOW: A large gash was visible at the front of the vessel. Investigators will be looking at a range of potential causes, from human error to mechanical failure, as well as the company's safety record. The ship had two prior accidents, one in 2009, the other in 2010. No injuries were reported.

One factor investigators will be looking at is the speed of the ferry as it pulled into the dock.

CAPT. GORDON LOEBL, U.S. COAST GUARD: We know that they hit the pier here at a relatively high rate of speed, and that's a relatively high rate for a docking maneuver, anywhere between what we think about 14 knots, which would be about 15, 16 miles an hour.

SNOW: Coast Guard Captain Gordon Loebl says, overall, the New York Harbor is a safe one, given the high traffic of vessels passing through every day. The last major ferry accident was in 2010, causing 36 injuries. It came seven years after one of the city's worst ferry accidents, when 11 people were killed and 42 injured when the Staten Island Ferry slammed into its pier.


SNOW: And in today's incident, Wolf, there were five crew members. The Coast Guard says all five crew members were given Breathalyzer tests and that preliminary results show that those tests came back negative.

Now, the NTSB plans to interview crew members tomorrow. The owner of the company apologized, expressing sympathy and concern for all those people who were injured in the very, very scary accident this morning for these passengers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, very scary, and the investigation only just beginning.

Kate -- Kate -- Mary, thanks very much.

Kate is here. Kate Bolduan is here, watching some other stories we're watching as well.


The gun control debate is one thing, that's for sure, Wolf. The gun divide is one of the deepest in the U.S., evoking strong passions on both sides of this debate. And today, the vice president held a meeting. This is part of a series of meetings, part of a task force, put together in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

And Vice President Biden says there will be action with or without Congress once these meetings are done.

CNN White House correspondent Brianna Keilar has more details on the meeting.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden says President Obama is serious about addressing gun violence, so serious that he will go around Congress to do it.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president is going to act. Executive orders, executive action that can be taken. We haven't decided what that is yet, but we're compiling it all with the help of the attorney general and all the rest of the Cabinet members, as well as legislative action, we believe, is required.

KEILAR: It's unclear what executive action the president might take. Gun control advocates, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are urging Obama to close holes in the federal database that determines who can buy a gun. Many federal and state agencies still don't contribute information about whether somebody is mentally fit to own a weapon. Word the White House will go it alone on some measures was met by suspicion on the right.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: So when Biden, himself a liberal Democrat, says that him and the president and the Cabinet, the attorney general, all a bunch of leftist Democrats, are talking about using executive orders, when you say for what, it can only be to take guns away from people. And who knew that an executive order can trump a constitutional amendment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My daughter was killed in Aurora, Jessica Ghawi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My 16-year-old son, Blair Holt, was killed in Chicago, May 10, 2007.

COLIN GODDARD, VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING SURVIVOR: My name is Colin Goddard. I'm a survivor of the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.

KEILAR: Victims of gun violence and their family members who met with Biden were heartened by the news that the White House will take executive action, though according to sources, they mainly talked about a move that would require Congress to act, closing the gun show loophole, which allows people to purchase a weapon from a private owner without a background check.

Colin Goddard was shot four times at Virginia Tech in 2007. He bought semiautomatic weapons as part of a documentary about his story.

(on camera): You purchased the weapon that you were shot with at Virginia Tech?

GODDARD: Yes, I bought .9-millimeter handguns. I bought MAC- 11s, I bought TEC-9s. I bought even an AK-47 in Ohio without any paperwork any background check at all. And it was all really easy and legal.


KEILAR: President Obama has urged Congress to pass a ban of assault weapons and also a ban on high-capacity magazines or gun clips, as they might be known, but, Kate, those are politically heavier lifts than trying to close the so-called gun show loophole.

BOLDUAN: And politically heavy lift, the entire issue of gun control is just that.

Brianna, Wal-Mart is now attending the vice president's meeting tomorrow, after initially saying that they wouldn't be able to attend, would not be sending a representative. What happened?

KEILAR: Wal-Mart said initially, Kate, a spokesperson for Wal- Mart said that they weren't going to attend, that their executives were going to be in Bentonville, Arkansas, the company's headquarters, for a meeting, so they wouldn't with able to attend in person. And then, certainly after that got some scrutiny, they reversed their decision.

They're key in this, because they are the nation's largest retailer, they sell guns and they sell ammunition, and after reversing course on this and saying they will attend this meeting tomorrow, that same spokesperson said that they had underestimated the expectations of appearing in person, and that's why they changed their minds.

BOLDUAN: No matter when, an invitation at the White House is still an invitation to the White House.

KEILAR: It is.

BOLDUAN: Brianna Keilar at the White House tonight, thanks so much, Brianna.

The gun divide is one of the deepest in the United States, evoking such strong passions on both sides, clearly, but many Americans have little or no firsthand experience with guns.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick was among them.

Deb, you set out to change that, though. Tell us about it.


There are millions of law-abiding gun owners in the United States, really who have been around firearms since they were very young. It's really part of the American culture. And today a friend told me that when he was in high school, he would go deer hunting before class, totally anathema to me. So I set out to see if I could understand gun ownership through their eyes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do it again. Do it again. Do it again. FEYERICK (voice-over): I didn't grow up around firearms. The thought of carrying one, much less firing one, is outside my comfort zone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not as tough as you think, right?

FEYERICK (on camera): It's definitely not as tough.

(voice-over): There are more than 310 million non-military firearms in the United States, more than one for every American. And, realistically, the difference between military weapons and their popular civilian versions is often minimal, says security expert Lou Palumbo.

(on camera): Do you think as citizens we are better protected if we are armed a firearm like this, as citizens?


FEYERICK: Because?

PALUMBO: Because this weapon or this firearm will allow you as an individual to protect yourself and your family.

FEYERICK (voice-over): As I pick up this PS-90 rifle, often used by the Secret Service, I ask myself, could I pull the trigger to protect my family?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That dot inside that circle right in the middle of that tin, and pull the trigger. Do it again. Do it again. Do it again.

FEYERICK: I'm focused with professionals in a controlled environment. To my surprise, Lou describes this as a the pussy cat of weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What'd you think about shooting that?

FEYERICK (on camera): I have to agree with Lou. It's a very gentle gun.


FEYERICK (voice-over): My city has lots of police and lots of gun laws. As a civilian, I can't carry a firearm here. Lou, a former cop, can, and never leaves home without one. His concern?

PALUMBO: They're legislating laws that do not impact the criminal element. In other words, the only people that obey the law are law-abiding citizens.

FEYERICK: The Aurora movie theater shooter used three firearms, one a shotgun similar to this, a single cartridge, multiple pellets, maximum damage. (on camera): You can smell the powder, too.

PALUMBO: Oh, absolutely.

FEYERICK (voice-over): I'm torn between fascination and fear. I understand self-protection and competitive sport, but gun crime is a reality in my city.

PALUMBO: I look at people as being evil, you know? I have never seen a gun jump up on its own and shoot someone.

FEYERICK: So I change my scenario. If I lived alone in the country, could I see myself owning a gun?

(on camera): Is this the kind of firearm a first-time owner could potentially buy?

PALUMBO: Yes, with the proper instructions.

FEYERICK (voice-over): And that's one of the key factors that many gun proponents point out. If you're going to own a gun, you must learn to use it properly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you to lean into it.

FEYERICK: I'm not sure about my own comfort level, not yet anyway. But as I look at statistics, I see crime did not go down under the U.S. assault weapons ban. I don't have an answer to the gun debate. But with some 300-plus million firearms in the U.S., it would seem those fighting for all or nothing may not hold the answer either.


FEYERICK: You know, and, Kate, this issue is so complex. There are so many things to consider. Even something as basic as the number of gun owners, I tried to find that answer, well, no one knows. States, counties, cities, they all have their own gun laws.

In some places, you have to register, in other places, you don't. So really the people who are going to be looking at legislation and what to do and what to ban and how to go about it, they have got a very, very difficult, very complicated job ahead of them, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's very complicated, but I will say, Deb, I love that you set out to do this piece, making the effort to see an issue from another perspective. I grew up in Indiana. I group up around guns, shotguns, something that I have always been very comfortable with.

So I absolutely love, especially on an issue as complex, and with so many passions on an issue like this, that you set out to see it from a different perspective. Great work. Great work, Deb.

FEYERICK: Thanks so much.

BLITZER: I'm not getting close to you with that shotgun.

BOLDUAN: Don't mess with me, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know. We will talk later.


BLITZER: Emergency rooms are flooded with flu victims right now. One hospital has actually set up a flu tent outside. Up next, the story of a teenager killed by the flu. It's heart-wrenching, with unsettling implications.


MELANIE SCHWOLERT, MOTHER: One of the last coherent things he said, he looked at me and there were some tears rolling down his face.


M. SCHWOLERT: He was scared. He said, "Mom, I'm scared."

And I said: "I know, buddy. I am too."

And then he saw me crying, and he said, "Mom, it's going to be OK. You're going to be OK. I love you."




THOMAS MENINO (D), MAYOR OF BOSTON: I am declaring a public health emergency in the city of Boston.


BLITZER: Mayor Thomas Menino taking dramatic action as his city is overwhelmed right now by the flu. Boston health officials have confirmed 700 cases so far this season, 10 times the number at this time last year.

Emergency rooms across the country are being inundated with flu patients. One hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has set up a flu tent outside the E.R. to help handle the crowds. It's a very serious health crisis with potentially deadly consequences.

Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's in Flower Mound, Texas, right now, with some details of one very sad, fatal case.

Elizabeth, what happened?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, flu can be insidious. And it can attack even perfectly healthy people.

And here's the story of one young man who got very sick, very quickly.


COHEN (voice-over): This Schwolert was getting ready for a joyful Christmas when on December 21, 17-year-old son Max started feeling sick, tired, fever.

T. SCHWOLERT: He never really got like super sick.

COHEN: Two days later, he was feeling better, played in the snow on vacation in Wisconsin, celebrated Christmas with his family. But Christmas night, Max felt sick again.

M. SCHWOLERT: He had excessive, like 104.9 fever, and we could not break it.

COHEN: The next morning, his parents took Max to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with the flu.

T. SCHWOLERT: Within 30 minutes, I mean, the doctor was like, something's really wrong here. His kidneys are starting to fail.

COHEN: Max was rushed by helicopter to a larger hospital.

M. SCHWOLERT: One of the last coherent things he said, he looked at me and there were some tears rolling down his face.

T. SCHWOLERT: He was scared.

M. SCHWOLERT: He was scared. He said, "Mom, I'm scared."

And I said: "I know, buddy. I am too."

And then he saw me crying, and he said, "Mom, it's going to be OK. You're going to be OK. I love you."

And that's really the last really coherent things that he said to me.

COHEN: Within 24 hours, Max went from feeling OK to intensive care.

M. SCHWOLERT: His organs were shutting down and they were completely baffled what was happening, what would attack him so quickly.

COHEN: His parents prayed for a miracle.

M. SCHWOLERT: And I remember putting my hands on his heart and I would feel his heartbeat, and I just knew how big it was, you know?

COHEN: Four days later, Max died, a young man whose nickname was Panda, 6'4'', big and gentle, played golf, goofed on his sisters, taught Sunday school.

After Max died, the Schwolerts drove home to Lewisville, Texas, waiting in their mailbox, an acceptance letter to Max's first college choice. Tom and Melanie want Max to be remembered for how he loved God, life, and the people around him. They have sold more than 1,000 "Love to the Max" T-shirts. The money will go a charity in Max's memory and the memory of his huge, loving heart.


BLITZER: Elizabeth is joining us.

Elizabeth, this is so awful. I know parents are wondering right now what can they do to make sure this doesn't happen to their children.

COHEN: Right.

There are a few signs that you can look for. Let's go through them. First of all, and this one is really important. If, like Max, somebody feels better and then worse, that is a bad sign. Because it's a sign that the flu might be over, but a bacterial infection has set in, which is what happened to Max. That's what actually killed him.

Also, look out for extreme lethargy, lethargy, a child who just wants to sleep all the time, doesn't want to get out of bed. Also, look out for confusion. But, Wolf, I have a hard time saying this as a parent, but I think it's important to say. Sometimes you can do everything right. This family did everything right, and the flu can still win.

BOLDUAN: And, Elizabeth, I know this is on the mind of so many people, did Max have a flu shot? Did that play into this at all?

COHEN: He did not have a flu shot. And so the parents have talked about that, but they added, he was on vacation in a house with about 15 relatives. Several of those relatives who did get flu shots also came down with the flu.

They didn't get as sick as he did, but you can get a flu shot and still get sick. It's about 60 percent effective. So the message here is, get a flu shot, it's better than not getting one, but it isn't foolproof.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you. Sad story, indeed.

Other news coming up, including hopes for democracy, fear of dictatorship. We will talk about Egypt's future, more of my exclusive interview with the country's new president.

And the likely next treasury secretary might need to improve his signature before it's printed on every dollar bill in the country.



BLITZER: Critics of Egypt's new president investigated for treason.

I put some tough questions to Mohammed Morsi -- my exclusive interview with him in Cairo.


BLITZER: Two years ago, Egyptians helped set the tone for the Arab Spring. They took to the streets, calling for change, toppled their longtime leader and paved the way for democratic elections.

The winner was a longtime Muslim Brotherhood leader who's now President Mohammed Morsi.

But he's been accused of steering Egypt back toward dictatorship and trampling on human rights.

Over the weekend, I went to Cairo for an exclusive conversation, and I put some tough questions to the Egyptian leader.


BLITZER (voice-over): During my lengthy interview with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy at his presidential palace in Cairo, I raised the cases of three prominent Egyptians, who sharply criticized Morsy and who've been investigated for treason as a result. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei; the former head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa; and Egypt's top television satirist, the so-called Jon Stewart of Egypt, Basem Youssef, who's made a lot of fun of Morsy.

Their cases underscore the fear that Morsy and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters could destroy the Arab Spring promise of real democracy and freedom.

(on camera) That raises deep concerns. What's going on with the democracy in Egypt?

MOHAMED MORSY, EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Democracy in Egypt and freedom are abided by an opposition in Egypt is respected and appreciated, for those to express their opinions and their points of view in Egypt now and in Egypt's future and to be a true partner in opinions and vision, effective criticism and constructive criticism. All of this is a right guaranteed for opposition in Egypt.

There are some challenges. There are some acts that don't comply with the law, that is addressed in the judicial system and the law and the president of the republic. It is not my right to interfere in what the procedures of the courts and what gets applied to and applied by the law.

BLITZER: And they can criticize you without fear of going to jail?

Top of Form MORSY: This happens every day. Anyone can say, from the opposition, whatever they want for the sake of the interests of the nation, and no one should be afraid of the opposition.

BLITZER: That is very encouraging to hear that from you, the president of Egypt. And as a journalist, I want freedom of the press. You want freedom of the press. And there is a case, though, of a satirist, a popular satirist, Bassem Youssef, who's also being investigated for supposedly ridiculing you and the government.

MORSY: Whoever criticizes me has the full right to do so. If there are some legal measures and some of the Egyptians file complaints in this respect, this is the issue that gets handled within the judicial system and the courts, not to me.

This is a full-fledged system, and, therefore, I welcome any criticism. I welcome every opinion. I welcome every view, and I push everyone to work.

BLITZER: But just to tie up this issue, Bassem Youssef, Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei, they don't have to worry about going to jail?

MORSY: They are Egyptians. They are part of my family from Egypt. There is no way that any harm can befall them because of their opinions or their personal opposition. There is no possible way to talk about or discuss jails or imprisonment as an option because of political involvement according to the law. There is no possible way to discuss this.

BLITZER (voice-over): We called Bassem Youssef to get his reaction. He says he's heard about the investigations, but says so far, he's not been summoned. He says he's worried about what he described as behind-the-scenes actions taking place.

We read him what Morsy said in the interview. "If the president says he's not linked to the lawsuits, it's music to my ears," he said. "I have to believe him. I thank him, and I say I'm glad he has nothing to do with it."

And we got this reaction from former Arab League head, Amr Moussa. "I wish to thank the president for the assurance he has publicly given through CNN. I trust that these guarantees will apply to all Egyptians, who should enjoy free expression of opinion."

There's another great fear in Egypt right now, one especially worrisome to 10 percent of the Egyptian population -- Christian Copts. There have been church burnings, including this one in Alexandria. They worry that the Muslim Brotherhood's new influence will undermine their ability to practice their religion freely and openly.

Here again, Morsy tried to reassure.

(on camera): How worried should these people be that Egypt will leave democracy and become strictly another totalitarian Islamist state?

MORSY: There is no objection in Islam to democracy. We move as Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, all Egyptians to new heights of democracy.

There will be no going backwards, not to the previous period or to dictatorship at all. And this is what I abide by and I insist upon. And we gain, every day, new heights in the context of applying and practicing democracy, with complete freedom for all Egyptians.

BLITZER: But you know there are a lot of Egyptian Christians, Copts, who are very frightened right now and worried that their country, Egypt, a country where they've lived for forever, is moving in the wrong direction.

MORSY: Those people are my beloveds and the children of the nation, the Christians and their brothers, the Muslims. There is no room for worry at all, because the rights of all Egyptians in this nation are equal, the same rights for everyone, and they have the same obligations.

The children of Egypt can't be divided at all because of their beliefs or practices, or their worship. We are all Egyptians.

BLITZER: What is your message to them about the religious freedom of Copts, of Christian Copts in Egypt?

MORSY: The freedom of belief and the freedom of practicing rituals of worship for Muslims, Christians and others, everyone who has a belief, for the first time in history, there is a special portion in the constitution for Christian and Jewish Egyptians and their right to return to and resort to their private matters based on their rituals that prescribe to their beliefs and religion.

BLITZER: One of your advisers, speaking of Egyptian Jews, caused controversy the other day when he suggested that Egyptian Jews living in Israel should come back to Egypt.

MORSY: These words were said in a specific context, and the one who said it said it in this way to demonstrate what he wanted to say from his point of view. But there are many media outlets that removed it from the general context.

However, he is no longer an adviser to me, because now, he is a member of the legislative council in the Shura Council. And he is most likely a leader in this council. And it is not right to group the legislative council and the executive council together in this stage, because he is not my adviser now.

BLITZER (voice-over): CNN correspondent, Ian Lee, has been in Egypt for several years and speaks Arabic. He says there are serious divisions within the country.

(on camera): So talk about those divisions.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, on one side you have the opposition, which in the past, has been unorganized. At this time, against the president, they seem to have somewhat of an organization.

And on the other side, you have the Muslim Brotherhood. You have the ultra-conservative Salafis. And you do have people who want stability in Egypt, and they say, "Whoever leads us, we just want the country to move forward."

So you -- you have two camps. Both sides believe they're right, and both sides are vying for power.

BLITZER (voice-over): Standing on a bridge over the Nile River, the Egyptologist, Ahmed Seddik, says the future of Egypt will largely depend on the economy.

(on camera): And it's -- we're watching it, obviously, very closely, to see what's going on.

AHMED SEDDIK, EGYPTOLOGIST: I think if the economy recovers, all of this will disappear.

BLITZER: Morsy's bottom line, please be patient with the new Egypt. He's only been in power for six months. Real change takes time.

(on camera): You -- you probably saw the "Time" magazine issue where the president of the United States is Person of the Year.

But you're not that far behind, because No. 4, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. You can see right there.


BLITZER: And you read the article. I assume you read the article...


BLITZER: ... about you. And -- and there was an interesting line. And I'll just get your quick reaction to it. "Mohamed Morsy, the power broker, Egypt's new president won kudos abroad and curses at home. What he does next could determine the shape of the Middle East."

What he does next could determine the shape of the Middle East.

Do you appreciate the responsibility you have right now?

MORSY: The victory of the Arab Spring and the respect of people's will. This world should realize that the will of the people will win over and will prevail.

So let's cooperate for the sake of stability and not interfere in the affairs of Egypt and not allow hegemony.

Peace for all. Stability. Freedom for all within their nation. The Arab Spring will win over. and this area shall civilize. But, of course, we can't work in isolation from the world. We love this world and we want to live in peace. We'll work on that. And the will of people from the region shall prevail and win over in the near future, Inshallah. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That means "God willing." You know, it's interesting. He spent seven years at the University of Southern California, getting a doctorate. He's lived in the United States. So he says -- he knows what I want to hear, what westerners, Americans want to hear, and he says all the right things. The question is, will he deliver? Will his actions be as strong as his words?

BOLDUAN: And that's what I wanted to ask you. Leaving this interview, leaving Egypt, did you get any clearer sense of what direction you see this man wants to take this country? Because as you know, and as you reported, there are so many people who have very mixed feelings about where they think his motives are and what direction he takes Egypt.

BLITZER: Because I've gotten so many reactions since Sunday when I got back, Monday morning. But most of the experts, people who really know Egypt, say it could go in either direction. They don't know.

He's invited to come to the United States. He'll meet with President Obama before the end of March some time. We'll see what he says when he comes here. But much more importantly, we'll see what he does. Because he promised these three critics that he's not going to go after them. Let's see what happens on the ground. We'll be watching closely.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And actions speak louder than words. That phrase could not be truer in this context.

BLITZER: A lot of -- Egypt, as I say all the time, is the largest of all of the Arab countries and the most important.

BOLDUAN: The most important. Great interview, Wolf. Fabulous.

Still ahead, to many Republicans, he's a thorn in the side. Others, though, say New Jersey's governor could be -- already maybe is -- the party's future. A closer look at this GOP star.


BLITZER: He's a thorn in the side of some Republicans. To others, he's the future of the Republican Party. We're talking about the New Jersey governor, Chris Christie. CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta has our story -- Jim.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with all the exposure he's getting these days, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie could be the right politician to lead the Republican Party out of the political wilderness. But some in the GOP grumble Christie is too busy telling them to get lost.

(voice-over): From making the rounds on the morning talk shows to landing on the cover of "TIME" magazine and dubbed "the boss," Chris Christie just might be the next big thing for a Republican Party that's shrinking in stature. And the New Jersey governor never seems to be at a loss for words when it comes to giving the GOP some straight talk.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: We've lost two national elections in a row. We need to be thinking about doing something different.

ACOSTA: Christie grabbed his party by the collar last week, when he called out House Speaker John Boehner for stalling passage of billions of dollars in relief money for victims of Superstorm Sandy.

CHRISTIE: There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims. The House majority and their speaker, John Boehner.

ACOSTA: In his State of the State speech this week, Christie complained New Jersey is still waiting for the bulk of the aid money.

CHRISTIE: New Jersey, both Republicans and Democrats, will never stand silent when our citizens are being short-changed.

ACOSTA: But many in the GOP who gave Christie a pass for standing shoulder to shoulder with President Obama right before the November election now wonder if he's just piling on. Some are irritated, one GOP source said, "that he is needlessly bashing Republicans because it's the popular thing to do right now."

GOP strategist Ron Bonjean says Christie needs to be careful.

RON BONJEAN, GOP STRATEGIST: Most Republicans view this as, yes, he's been bashing the speaker, but he was doing it to protect his state. And he's going to have to switch that out pretty quickly.

ACOSTA (on camera): He can't do that forever?

BONJEAN: If he did it on a weekly basis, he might as well switch parties.

ACOSTA: Either way, he's popular in New Jersey, with a new poll finding he has a 73 percent approval rating. That should ease his way into re-election this year.

Christie appears to be showing his party a more moderate path forward. He's banned the violent video game, "Call of Duty," in his home, and he's open to discussing a federal assault weapons ban.

As for the White House, Christie is dropping plenty of hints, telling reporters he'll be more ready to run in 2016.

CHRISTIE: Anybody who plans to run four years from now is crazy. I will be more ready than I was in 2012, because I will have done my job for longer and hopefully gotten better.

ACOSTA (on camera): The question for Christie is whether the party will be ready for him. Part of that depends on the direction of the GOP, which is still making its way through some stormy weather of its own -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Say what you will about Chris Christie, he's got a huge future ahead of him.

BOLDUAN: I think he already has a future now. He's huge now, in his party. And ahead, that's for sure.

A startling story, a mother hiding with her children, opens fire on an intruder, shooting him five times.


DONNIE HERMAN, HUSBAND OF WOMAN WHO SHOT INTRUDER: My wife is a hero. She protected her kids. She did what she was supposed to do as a responsible, prepared gun owner.



BOLDUAN: A mother, armed, shoots a home invader. The dramatic confrontation recorded in a call to 911. CNN's David Mattingly is in Atlanta with details of this.

David, what happened?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, this case ended in gunfire, and authorities in this Georgia county are praising the results.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): Listen to a father and husband's nightmare playing out on a 911 call.

HERMAN: She shot him. She's shooting him. She's shooting him. She's shooting him. She's shooting him.

MATTINGLY: Away at work, Donnie Herman calls 911 with his wife, Melinda, at home in Loganville, Georgia, with their two children, hiding in their attic from a daytime intruder. He hears everything over the phone when the intruder confronts them.

HERMAN: Shoot him again. Shoot him. Oh, no.

MATTINGLY: Herman's wife was armed with a .38 caliber handgun they kept in a safe. She fired all six shots, hitting the intruder five times.

(on camera): If she had not had that firearm, what do you think would have happened?

SHERIFF JOE CHAPMAN, GEORGIA: I can speculate all day long.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Sheriff Joe Chapman believes the mother had no choice and, in defending herself and her children, acted properly.

CHAPMAN: Had it not turned out the way that it did, I possibly would be working a triple homicide not having a clue of who it is we're looking for.

MATTINGLY: The suspect, identified as Paul Alex (ph) Slater, broke in with a crowbar. He still managed to flee after being shot, driving off the road a short distance away.

Donnie Herman told local affiliate WSB his wife and children were unharmed.

HERMAN: My wife is hero. She protected her kids. She did what she was supposed to do as a responsible, prepared gun owner.

MATTINGLY (on camera): We asked to speak to the couple, but now, less than a week after the incident, they're trying to maintain their privacy.

The sheriff tells us they're dealing with some unintended consequences. They're now reluctant figures in the national debate over guns.

(voice-over) Just two weeks before, the sheriff says Donnie Herman took his wife to a shooting range to teach her how to handle a gun. You can hear him talking about it on the 911 call.

HERMAN: Just remember everything that I showed you, everything I taught you, all right?

MATTINGLY: Words of comfort to his frightened wife seconds before she pulled the trigger.

Local authorities say they and the couple have received calls of support from all over the country.

CHAPMAN: No reasonable person can overlook this.

MATTINGLY (on camera): By looking at what happened in this home in this county, what does that say about gun rights?

CHAPMAN: Well, in this county, it says that the people still have the right to defend themselves.


BOLDUAN: Bring David back in. So David, what is the status of this alleged intruder now?

MATTINGLY: Well, the alleged intruder is in the hospital. His condition has not been publicly released for privacy reasons.

We talked to the sheriff about the legal status right now, and he says that they have a warrant for his arrest, but they haven't served it yet. So he hasn't been arrested yet. When I asked him why, the sheriff says, "Well, if we arrest him now, then we would have to pay his medical bills."

BOLDUAN: David Mattingly in Atlanta for us this evening. David, thanks so much.

BLITZER: We all know about background checks for potential gun buyers, but a U.S. senator wants them for people who want to purchase ammunition. CNN's Erin Burnett has been speaking with him tonight. Erin, give us a little preview of what's coming up.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, obviously, where Newtown is, has come out with a law. He says he wants to have background checks for ammunition purchases. So we're going to talk about that.

But also, get to the bottom of the fact that the Department of Justice says that, in a study they did, 80 percent of inmates who were in jail for gun-related crimes, bought their guns illegally. So is the step right now to be putting more laws on the books or really to be enforcing the ones that we have so we can determine the real scale and scope of the problem? We're going to talk about that.

Plus, V.P. Biden today saying that the president will use executive order on gun laws. So what does that mean? What could the president actually do by executive order right now that would limit gun laws or expand them? It's a really crucial question, and we're going to get answers on that at the top of the hour.

Plus, we're going to talk about steroids in baseball. We'll see you in a few.

BLITZER: Got a full show coming up. All right. We'll be watching. Erin, thanks very much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, Wolf.

Coming up -- Wolf is very excited about this story -- a lion is on the loose in Norfolk, Virginia; although on second look, it might just be a dog with a lion-style haircut. Either way, it's a call the 911 operator won't soon forget.


BLITZER: Imagine the panic at a Virginia 911 call center when the operators get a call that a lion is on the loose.

BOLDUAN: Oh, no! But now imagine their surprise to find out that it's not a lion at all; not even any type of large cat. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We've seen a dog in a pet show in China made to look like a panda and a horse made to resemble a poodle. But this is the tale of a dog with such a convincing haircut that people thought he was a lion and called 911. The officer later told Charlie the dog's owner...

DANIEL PAINTER, DOG'S OWNER: They were getting ready to send the detectives out with the SWAT team to handle a lion at large. And they were told, "use deadly force."

MOOS: Deadly force? On a Labradoodle?

PAINTER: But I tell people he's a Lab-a-lion.

MOOS: The Lab-a-lion shaved like this so he can play the part of an unofficial mascot for Old Dominion University.

Not one, but three 911 calls came in Tuesday reporting what looked like a lion on the loose. Norfolk police called the Virginia Zoo to confirm that both of its lions were secured and accounted for.

That's the zoo's director posing with Charlie. The zoo started getting news media inquiries from press monitoring police scanners.

It was just Charlie taking a walk on his own. The dog and his owner, Daniel Painter, live near the zoo. When people spot Charlie walking there, they really freak out.

PAINTER: I've seen them literally dive through the window to get into car, thinking a lion is after them.

MOOS: In the wake of the 911 calls...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not going anywhere.

MOOS: ... Charlie has become famous. On his Facebook page, he's getting a lion's share of likes.

(on camera) We'd be lying if we said the color of Charlie's mane is natural. He gets his mane and the tip of his tail dyed.

(voice-over): At a groomer's called Doggie Style.

(on camera): How often does he need maintenance to look like a lion?

PAINTER: About once every four months.

MOOS (voice-over): At least he's no cowardly lion, even if he does resemble the one in "The Wizard of Oz."

(MUSIC: "If I only had the nerve.")

MOOS: It's enough to give a dog a split personality. No wonder folks are in an uproar.


MOOS: Charlie may not be an MGM trademark. He's already made his mark, and he's only 3.

Jeanne Moos, CNN...

PAINTER: He's the most friendliest Lab-a-lion you're going to find.

MOOS: ... New York.


BOLDUAN: I was trying to figure out if there was any lion joke that Jeanne did not fit into that piece.

BLITZER: She wasn't lion. She was telling the truth.

BOLDUAN: She was telling the truth. I couldn't think of a single lion joke to end the show with.

BLITZER: She works really hard on these pieces. Does a great job.

BOLDUAN: She does do a great job.

BLITZER: Studies every little frame of that video to make sure.

BOLDUAN: A Lab-a-lion.

BLITZER: Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me, @WolfBlitzer. Or...

BOLDUAN: Kate, @KateBolduan.

BLITZER: OK. That's it for us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

BURNETT: "OUTFRONT" next, Vice President Joe Biden...